Saturday, February 27, 2016

Juniper in the hood

A Red Hook stroll on this last Saturday of February 2016. And a happy encounter with an eastern North American juniper, Juniperus virginiana - commonly known as eastern red cedar. The fruit is sweet and seedy, with a distinct hit of gin.

Back home: Store-bought juniper berries on the left, eastern red cedar berries on the right.

I have plans for them. A Remodelista Market is coming up, in March, and I have been asked to make two special cocktails for the pre-market party...

Happy February forager...


Friday, February 26, 2016

How to steam eggs

I have discovered steamed eggs. It only took about two dozen flops for me to figure out how to do what everyone says is so easy. David Thompson, in his extraordinarily beautiful book, Thai Food, says simply, Steam the eggs for 10 minutes.

But...from cold, or from when the water is already boiling? And what about different size eggs? (I made miso-inflected egg salad from the overcooked, different-sized flops.)

The miso idea came from Nancy Singleton Hachisu's talk at Brooklyn Kitchen some months ago. And then I gilded the yolky lily by adding a vinaigrette before serving. Everyone who came to dinner for those first eggs hummed about them. I served them as a snack, but they may have overshadowed the rest of the meal. Well, maybe not the condensed milk icecream with espresso poured on top.


Miso eggs:

8 Large eggs
1.5 cups pale (yellow) miso

Steam the eggs for 8 minutes: Place them in a single layer in the steamer basket when you see steam squeezing out from under the lid. (Jumbo eggs will need 10 minutes. Medium eggs 7. I just saved you 24 eggs.)

Dunk in cold water and peel.

Coat each egg in a thick layer of pale miso. This is a very sticky process and sometimes it's easier just to pack the eggs in a bowl or container with a lot of miso, making sure there is always miso between one egg and the next, front back and sides.

Leave in the fridge, covered, for up to 24 hours, but they good even after 3 hours.

To serve, bring the miso eggs to room temperature over about half an hour, and scrape off most of the miso (you can reuse this - within a day or two - in a soup or sauce or stew). If you are in a rush you can rinse the miso off.

Slice the eggs in half - a bread knife works best - and serve them with a drizzle of vinaigrette made from:

1 Tbsp makrut* or ordinary lime juice
1 makrut leaf (if you have one), torn up
1 Tbsp fish sauce
2 tsps soy sauce
2 tsp brown or palm sugar
1 tsp 100% sesame oil

Stir very well to dissolve the sugar (add the oil after you've done this). Taste, and adjust to your liking.

* Makrut is ordinarily known as kaffr lime. This is a very offensive word in South Africa. Makrut is the best name. Its juice and the leaf's perfume are intensely aromatic. But it is very hard to find.

Sprinkle the eggs with chopped scallions. Yummy appetizer (or main course, served with what you like, and I like sushi rice)...


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

My Tiny Garden

I had no idea till now that our Harlem terrace provided the cover for Lucy Anna Scott's new book, My Tiny Garden. The black diagonal lower left is the bird feeder - it got in the way of a lot of my own photos. But how sweet to see the Harlem birds and scarlet runner beans, months - it feels like years -  after that space has been taken apart.

Lucy and photographer Jon Cardwell visited the Frenchman and me last year, and stayed for dinner (above) on the terrace. Apparently the birds cooperated.

I've been lucky to have had both our New York gardens immortalized in print (the Cobble Hill terrace has featured in several books and magazines). The pleasure I take in these spaces is intense, but of course transitory, subject to the whims of real estate and New York rental life. Lots of heartbreak when they are demolished, but so much joy when we live in them.

I don't know how long we will be in our current space in Carroll Gardens, or how this garden will look at its best. I have seen it only in my head, which is where all garden dreams begin.

We shall see.


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Cookies 'n dinges

Spicebush cookies. Basic pâte sablée: flour, butter, powdered sugar, egg yolks, and the wild card of ground spicebush (Lindera benzoin) berries. Packed for the Brooklyn Bridge Park Walk I led on Saturday.

I was expecting just 15 walkers, but we had 40, thanks to the very warm, spring-like weather. So... the cookies had to be stretched a little! I think I had 34.

Today it rains and later this week we will dip below freezing, again. In the garden I am: thinking about making a discrete bug hotel (boutique size), using all the viburnum trimmings from late last year when I tried to impose some order and encourage a sense of form in the very shaggy corner shrub; considering keeping bees (don't tell the Frenchman, yet - Hi, Vince!);  pondering possums, and whether they will squash my garden or eat snails... there are two that eat cat food two doors down and I think they visit us; wondering when to add my collection of powdered egg shells to the vegetable plot (calcium to raise pH, to supplement the crushed oyster shells already dug in); looking forward to unfurling the beautiful (white!) umbrella from Patio Living, still packed in its very long box; and wondering whether the Zika-tide will prompt Brooklyn parents-to-be to demand city spraying against stripe-legged mosquitoes. I did not christen this Carroll Gardens garden Chez Mosquito for nothing...


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Spring in the hood

Cardoons, courtesy of California. I have one - now I just have to remember what to do with it.

Daffodils are everywhere.

I should add that, while it is February, and typically the c-c-c-c-c-coldest month of the year in New York, today was spring. Warm. 61'F/16'C. No coat required. Consequently my frigid forage walk at Brooklyn Bridge Park wasn't (frigid) and was packed. January, last month, was the hottest month on record. In the world. 


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Forage walks


Roller coaster weather. Overnight, we have gone from many minuses below freezing to the balmy 50's, with rain. Yesterday's pretty snow has been washed away.

View from Pier 6, Brooklyn Bridge Park

I will be leading a wild plant walk this Saturday, the 20th in Brooklyn Bridge Park (3pm-4pm), on behalf of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy. Because they are underwriting this walk the tickets are a mere $5, and the walk is a sensible (for February!) one hour. More info here (you need to book).

What will we see in their stripped winter glory? Bayberries, sweetfern, chokeberry, rosehips and Kentucky coffee trees. For a start. Plus some pretty spectacular harbor and Manhattan views.

The weather promises to be nice, just above 50'F, and there will be sun. They say.

Dead Horse Bay

My own spring walks, packed with fresh-made snacks (if I ever get that alpaca I will call it Paktwithsnax) kick off in April, when the green world is waking up.

Invasive garlic mustard

We will be visiting Prospect Park, Central Park, Fort Tryon, Inwood Hill Park and Dead Horse Bay. Much more info about how I lead walks, and these specific locations in the link below:

Invasive lesser celandine

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sundays for house-bound foragers

Valentine's tray

What does a forager-gardener do on a February winter weekend when it's -11'C/14'F outside?

Stay in bed, of course.

At-home Sundays usually mean breakfast in bed, for me - the Frenchman makes a tray and I sip and eat and read while he does complicated things next door on his computer.

Grow Journey Seeds and reading

Today I dived into my Ben-Erik van Wyk books to read more about Solanum nigrum and other species after receiving some very interesting bonus seed from Grow Journey in my February seeds-of-the-month package.

The common name for the seed in this packet is garden huckleberry, a term I had never encountered before. The botanical name on the packet is Solanum nigrum var. melanocerasum. I had no idea black nightshade was actively cultivated in the States. How exciting. A brand new crop. And I thought I did not like surprises. This is one of the unexpected pleasures of the monthly seed membership: considering crops I had not thought of.

Garden huckleberry jam. Photo: Tyrant Farms

There is a recipe for the fruit and more background about it at the Tyrant Farms blog.

I grew up with black nightshade. In South Africa you can sometimes find jam made from the fruit at farm stalls, and the tender leaves are eaten cooked. The unripe fruit is considered very toxic.

Planting these will satisfy the forager in me. I saw the fruits maturing as late as October on a walk in Red Hook last year. And just around the corner from where we live, in a neglected side garden that has provided me with mugwort before, the black nightshade plants were still blooming in November.

Edible black nightshade - Solanum nigrum

Common names can freak people out. I know what you are thinking:

Deadly nightshade is another thing altogether - Atropa belladonna; the flowers are very ornamental, bell-like and purple-pink. Deadly nightshade's poisonous fruit are borne singly, each being framed by a helpfully conspicuous and oversize (wider than the berry) coronet of calyces (plural of calyx) which distinguishes it easily from edible black nightshade, whose calyces are petite. There are other differences, of course, but that is the easiest, if you are going berry by berry.

Deadly nightshade - Atropa belladonna. Photo: stefancek, Flickr

So many articles written by people who are not tuned to plants confuse the two. Read carefully. Even a Slate piece I found had to add corrections, after the fact.

Incidentally, with plants known to be poisonous, the ripe fruits can be the least poisonous part of the plant (if you except the seeds). The danger resides in the roots, stems, leaves, and seeds. Often, the ripe fruit pulp itself is innocuous. That does not mean that I advise you to go grazing on known poisonous plants, but it bears mentioning. For instance, you would not want to ingest cherry bark, eat the leaves of peach trees, or eat many of the seed kernels. But do we consider cherries and peaches to be poisonous? No.

And some day it will be spring, again. But right now the early buds are very, very unhappy.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Flowers in the house

I love having natural light in the kitchen during the day, thanks to the glass door to the garden. The Harlem kitchen was a dark tunnel. That kitchen also had a muddy brown marble countertop and I could never see if it was dirty or not - that might have been the whole idea, but it bothered me. Now we have a mix of butcher block on one side and ordinary formica on the other, but it's white; we do have to keep it dry, otherwise it can stain, but phew, visually it is a relief.

Forced hyacinths are being sold at almost every deli on nearby Court Street, now. I unpack them from their plastic pot, snip off most of the white roots, repot them in the cheap Turkish ceramic bowl above and give them a careful drink. They last about two weeks. At night their scent is so strong that I move them onto the sill of the little sash window in the kitchen so that we can smell supper.

The days are noticeably longer now, even though the biggest cold of our winter is coming our way, this weekend. The buds and bulbs that have emerged in our complicatedly mild winter are in for a bad shock.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

A small snow

It is wonderful to wake up to the sound of falling snow. Mostly it's about no-sound. The muffled edges and soft landings. The patter on a window.

Last week's small snow caught us all by surprise. It was wet, and stuck beautifully to every branch and fence.

By afternoon a wind had arrived and shook most of it off.

But while it fell it turned the world new.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

How to eat dandelions

Thinking of wild foods snacks for my walks. This would have to be assembled on site. Doable, though tricky for vegans and vegetarians. But oh, so good.

What is it? Basically a messed up salade Lyonnaise. Dandelion wilted in olive oil in a pan where bacon just crisped, then deglazed/soused with good vinegar. Pile onto garlic-rubbed bruschetta with not-quite-hard-boiled-eggs and the bacon. Don't forget the pepper.



Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Winter pilgrimage - Dead Horse Bay

A last-minute suggestion by the Frenchman resulted in a Zipcar-driven snowy outing to Dead Horse Bay. Snow makes New York new, and we have made the most of it (maybe that is why my cold/flu/whatever it is won't go away).

I had never seen these paths in the middle of winter before - though I know them well in spring and later summer, when the wild black cherries drip with black pearls of fruit.

A lot of old sumac persevered beside the paths, and in the white crust we saw rabbit prints, a characteristic triangle of indentations.

Bayberry buds have appeared on the shoreline shrubs. If you have full sun and well drained soil, this is an excellent indigenous American herb. Good for rooftops, too, as they tolerate some drought, and wind.

As luck would have - we didn't plan it - the tide was out, and the glass treasure of Dead Horse Bay was exposed. It was a day for blue bottles, the glass, not stinging, kind, and here - below - the sand is being shaken from one - we carried our haul in a kikoi.

The eroding landfill, below.

And its contents end up here. Yep, you need strong shoes.

The end of Schlitz...

Eventually we worked our way right round and headed back inland.

We made a quick tour of nearby Floyd Bennett Field, in the hopes of spotting snowy owls. We stopped for our traditional winter picnic of Fast Tomato Soup (15 minutes from start to Thermos). Later, all we found was the late afternoon sunset, over the Rockaways. No owls. Too warm for owls.

And then it was home on the roaring BQE. Pixillated because of my telephoto (attached for hopeful owls) and no energy to change lenses.

After a two-year hiatus I will lead a spring walk at Dead Horse Bay, which should be a lot fun: I have timed it to coincide with a new moon and an early afternoon low tide. Follow the link for details as well as for the other walks (Fort Tryon, Central Park) that I am adding to the spring schedule.